Sunday, April 25, 2010

San Antonio

Came back from San Antonio, where I participated in Lennox Seminar series (many thanks to Dr. Aaron Delwiche for inviting me). The talk went well, I think, and the students and the faculty at Trinity U were great.

I also got a chance to walk around town -- it was the day of the Fiesta, so it was pretty awesome. Loved the river, loved the town -- really, just a great trip all around. My photos are at my Facebook, but here're a few especially memorable ones.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gyms are awesome

Part 4 -- Exercise redux

I spend at least 7 hours in the gym each week, so that gives me plenty of time to get judgmental. Some things are fairly obviously wrong -- not wiping down the machines, not putting back the weights after you've done with them, and generally creating more work for other people. Then there are things that are just inconsiderate -- hogging the machines by sitting on them between sets (unless you only rest 30-60 seconds between sets, there's no call for it), aggregating in the aisles to chat, sitting down on the equipment to text etc.

Then there are things that are merely annoying -- the aforementioned aisle-cloggers who apparently go to the gym to socialize, loud talkers, texters, attention-seekers, grunters, weight-slammers and other noisy individuals. Oh, also those who are better than headphones and listen to their music on their Blackberries.

On the other hand, I do love the gym. I love it because of the variety of machines and weights one simply cannot have at home; and even if one does have the world's best exercise equipment, gyms are motivational -- once you're there, you have to work out, and might as well do it as quickly as possible and go home.

Variety is important to me: with exercise, it is easy to fall into a rut, and just do the same thing over and over. By switching up, I find that I can challenge myself better -- for example, one day I might do dips for chest, the next -- seated presses. Some days, I isolate muscle groups and others opt for full body exercises. One day, I might do a biceps curl machine, the next -- pyramid (starting with 40 lbs, moving to 30 and then to 20 without resting, to exhaustion).

I mentioned before that I tend to do single sets of 8-12 reps (with occasional exceptions of multiple sets of more reps); that caused some questions, so let me elaborate. Single sets with heavy weights=increase in strength, reasonably quickly. You start with the heaviest weight you can do 8 reps with, build to 12 reps, and move onto the next one. To me, increase in strength is the main reason to lift weights. Doing high reps with low weights kind of defeats the purpose -- or at least, tends to be much slower than high weights-low reps route. Not to mention that one set takes up a lot less time.

I do see, however, that a lot of people (anecdotally, mostly women) tend to work out with low weights, doing tremendous number of reps. This makes me curious -- why? Is it fear of bulking up? Some misguided notion of ladylike workouts?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cornish hens and polenta, a photo essay

So today I cooked Cornish hens with polenta and veggies, and took pictures all along as an experiment. It was a celebratory dinner, and as such it's not terribly healthy. However, all saturated fat and starch is in the polenta, so if one sticks to veggies and poultry, it is quite good for you and delicious!

The night before, I took about half a cup of olive oil and chopped in some fresh rosemary, added dry herbs and red chili pepper flakes, and left it to infuse overnight. Then I slathered the oil, rosemary and all, over two Cornish hens:

Roast at 400 F, 20-25 minutes per side. I start them breast down and in 25 minutes flip them over. Baste as needed.

The leftover oil is below. Notice the lovely green color. I saved it for vegetable grilling.

Cornish hens came with giblets, which I boiled with salt in 3 1/2 cups of water, to make quick chicken stock. Filtered the stock, brought to a boil, added one cup of cornmeal in a thin stream while whisking:

After the polenta thickened, I lowered the heat and turned my attention to the veggies. Asparagus is in season in New Jersey, and there's nothing better than local and fresh asparagus. With some grape tomatoes and sliced mushrooms. Brushed the leftover oil over it, and let it stand to absorb the flavor.

I then decided to make a glaze for the hens -- 1/3 cup honey, 1/4 cup sherry vinegar, 1/4 cup cooking Marsala, 1/4 soy sauce, and dried herbs+red chili flakes. Brought to a boil and let reduce and thicken over low heat:

Then it was time to fry some bacon! Chopped 2-3 slices into small pieces, cooked over medium heat to render. Add the grease to polenta. Also, while basting the Cornish hens, stole some of the drippings to add to polenta.

After cooking polenta for 35 minutes, added cooked bacon and cubed cheese.

While heating, stirred with a wooden spoon until cheese was well incorporated. I like my polenta thick, but feel free to add extra fluid to make it thinner.

By then, the hens were ready to come out of the oven:

And veggies were ready to go in. It takes 5-7 min at 400 F to roast them perfectly:

Quartered the hen and drizzled with glaze (it's dark but very tasty), served with polenta and veggies. The recipe took about an hour with prep.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Oh, Project Runway, you slay me

So, last night was a standoff between Mila and Jay, and a welcome addition to the otherwise dull episode where Tim Gunn gets to visit everyone and tell them what worries him. Also: he gets on a trampoline with Seth Aaron's kids. Tim Gunn is dignified even when he falls over (not that I doubted).

So anyway, Mila vs Jay. Spoilers follow.

I heard Mila being frequently criticized for being one note -- black and white, colorblocking, mod/retro esthetic. OK, fair enough. However, it's not like Jay presents different silhouettes -- ugly pants with narrow leg and poufed hips and thighs (or skirts poufed on the hip with bonus ruffles), clingy tops, exaggerated collars. He does the same thing over and over, all the while talking about being fashion forward and awesome. Also, his esthetic is so close to what a bunch of manufacturers of young clothing are doing -- and yet, the judges keep calling him fresh and interesting; I always suspected that they mean 'young', but yesterday it came into sharp focus.

Michael Kors admonished Mila because her clothes are retro and this is NOT what the girls today want. It never entered his mind that it is possible to design not for girls but for women, and that fashion can actually appeal to adults in their late thirties and beyond rather then being knit sportswear separates for the teen and the twenty-something set. Because really. How many designers making destroyed baggy t-shirts, leggings and fashion sweats does the world need? Most clothing retailers are swimming in knit tops and Alexander Wang knock-offs while finding a tailored white shirt is near impossible (I need one!)

Thankfully, the good sense prevailed and Jay and his designs were sent home. Which is just fine by me -- he calls himself innovative, but in reality is just another one of those who want to create pretty outfits without consideration of how it would look on a variety of body types. Sorry, if human body annoys one and presents an obstacle to one's beautiful designs, I don't want to see one in Project Runway finals. Mila's clothes, on the other hand, I would totally wear. The woman can cut a wonderful coat.

(And so can Seth Aaron. I think he might even win this thing -- his jackets are just lovely.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New Anthology

I'm putting together a new anthology for Prime, to be released May 2011. The title is BEWERE THE NIGHT, and I'm looking for stories dealing with any were-creatures; werewolves are welcome, of course, and the stories should be in a general urban fantasy vein. I'll need the stories by the end of December 2010, and I'm looking for reprints as well as originals. Reprints pay 1c/word and originals 5c/word, and the length should be between 1,000 and 7,500 words. Also, please suggest reprints by other authors if you happen to think of any.

Thank you!

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Part 3 -- What's for dinner?

My typical dinner consists of protein + salad (with protein being fish most of the time, with chicken a close second). Occasionally, grilled vegetables (or vegetable saute) may be substituted for the salad. Or I might skip the protein if it's already incorporated into the salad. I also normally cook rice or pasta or potatoes for the better half, who doesn't hate starch -- it agrees with him quite well. (Just to show that the food pyramid is by no means universal.)

My main requirement for salads is taste. Also, I'm not terribly concerned about fat content, although most of the recipes below are high in unsaturated and monounsaturated fats and low in saturated ones (exceptions: chicken salad and bacon grease version of Brussels sprout salad). I try to limit sodium primarily by making my own vinaigrette (the one in Brussels sprout recipe). It goes well over almost any salad -- potato, regular green salad, etc. Also, it's flavorful enough to allow me to skip salt. YMMV.

Here're some of my favorite salad recipes. Most are adopted from various Food Network places, Recipezaar, and random blogs. Most also contain some variations from the original recipe, due to my preferences or laziness. So, in no particular order, my top five salads. (Note: the first two are vegetarian-friendly and the third can be modified to accommodate vegetarians. The last two are meant to be an entire meal, so they incorporate animal protein).

Avocado and Bean Salad

2 ripe avocados, mushed with fork
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 small can black beans, rinsed
1-2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/4 cup crumbled Queso Fresco
1/4 cup mild or medium green salsa
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered

Mix all the ingredients and enjoy. If keeping some for later, place saran wrap on the surface of the salad and press firmly -- it keeps avocados from turning brown with oxidation.

Mango and Tomato Salad

1 ripe mango
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 finely chopped red onion
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon cumin
juice from 1 lime

Cut off mango sections around the pit, score with the knife into small cubes, invert and cut the cubed flesh into the bowl. Add other ingredients; no dressing is necessary besides lime juice.

Warm Brussels Sprouts and Pear

2 cups small Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved (either fresh or frozen will do)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2-3 slices of thick cut bacon
1 pear (any kind works, although some people prefer Asian pear)
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cups chopped greens -- I prefer spring mix, but any greenery works. (Except iceberg lettuce -- that stuff isn't good for anything.)

For vinaigrette:

3 tablespoons olive oil (or 2 olive oil + 2 bacon grease)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/2 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard (I prefer coarse Dijon)

Cut bacon in small pieces, render over medium heat until the pieces are crispy and golden brown, and the fat has rendered. Remove the bacon onto a plate covered with a paper towel. Reserve two tablespoons of grease if you're planning on using it for vinaigrette.

In the same pan, saute garlic until fragrant, add Brussels sprouts (cut side down). Saute over medium heat until golden-brown; add 1/2 cup water, cover, and lower the heat. Saute for 5 min or until sprouts are tender -- do not overcook! Uncover, increase the heat until remaining water evaporates.

While the sprouts are cooking, cut tomatoes and greens, put in a bowl. Skin and quarter your pear, remove the seeds, cut each quarter into small slices; add to the bowl.

To make vinaigrette, whisk olive oil, bacon grease, vinegars and mustard until smooth.

Add warm sprouts and bacon bits to the bowl, toss with vinaigrette, serve while still warm.

Radicchio and Chicken Salad

1 chicken breast, cooked and chopped (about 2 cups). (Substitute any cooked chicken -- great use for leftovers.)
1/2 large head of radicchio, chopped
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons mayo

Mix all ingredients together. Increase honey and/or curry if necessary -- honey mellows the bitterness of radicchio, and curry makes everything more delicious. Can be eaten plain or as a sandwich.

Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Salad

4 oz of smoked salmon, cut into strips
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cut candied or plain walnuts
1-2 cups of young greens, chopped
raspberry vinaigrette to taste

Toss greens with goat cheese and walnuts, add vinaigrette to coat. Top with salmon strips. If desired, add raisins and/or dried cherries.

Bonus Blue Crab Salad from Paula Dean is here. It doesn't contain any butter. I occasionally make it without any modifications.

Feel free to share your favorite salad recipes in comments. I'm always looking for more.

Monday, April 05, 2010


Part 2 – Exercise

Note: there won't be any metrics, because a) they're boring; b) I don't find them helpful. It's just a post about exercise and my take on it.

Exercise is an interesting thing for me. I've been doing it in some form for most of my life, and I tend to get obsessive about it. Back in my tae kwon do days, for example, if I didn't have a class and a sparring practice and either weights or elliptical, I would run 5 miles and count it as no exercise day. I KNOW.

Now that I'm twice as old, I still have to watch out for the obsessive tendencies, and I still tend to catastrophize missing a workout. Nowadays, I feel reasonably accomplished with 5 days at the gym routine; if I feel compelled to work out on the other two days (and I normally do), I just do an hour or so of medium intensity yoga (thank you, Exercise TV) and a ten-minute ab workout (usually pilates- or yoga-based).

On the gym days (all five), I do an hour of elliptical (8-10 resistance) – usually it's enough time for me to travel 6-6.2 miles. Two days, I do weights – low reps, one set. For each exercise, I use the weight low enough to get at least 8 reps but no more than 12. If I get 12 or more reps, I move on to the next weight. This workout regimen works well for me because it takes little time and gets good results in terms of strength increase. And one day, I work for one hour with a personal trainer.

With weights, I try to hit arms, chest, shoulders, upper and lower back, abs, obliques, hamstrings, calves, abductors/adductors. Mostly I use machines with occasional free weights; machines are good because they let me lift more weight without too much joint stress. With seated chest press, for example, I can do 150 lbs of resistance on the machine, but with free weights it would mess up my shoulders and elbows too much.

So that amounts to 1-2 hours of exercise time per day, and I'm a little conflicted on it. Sometimes it feels selfish, or I think there are other things I could be doing instead. Basically, this guilt kept me away from the gym during last years of grad school and pretty much all of my pre-tenure years – other things felt more important. But now, as I'm pushing forty, I'm figuring it's worth it. It's something I do enjoy a lot, and a day without exercise feels misspent, somehow. So I'm losing the guilt, now. I might even increase the yoga.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Werewolf ARC Giveaway

Is hosted here. Here's your chance to snag a free preliminary copy of RUNNING WITH THE PACK, if you like that sort of thing. Feel free to spread the word!

Friday, April 02, 2010


I'm guest-blogging here.

This is for Shara's book club (her LJ is calico_reaction); they picked Alchemy as their April book, so I'm there answering questions and trying not to make a fool of myself. Come help me!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Alton Brown is my god.

Part 1. Alton Brown is my god.

This is the first in a what is likely to become a sporadic series of posts focusing on issues of exercise, health, and, yes, weight. It seems like the latter two are weirdly intertwined in the American cultural conscience, in a way that thinness is equated to health even when achieved by sacrificing healthful habits, and fatness is thought to be automatically unhealthy – which, yeah. So my purpose is to talk about health more than anything, although for me returning to regular exercise (after being away from it due to injuries, grad school and pre-tenure ennui) and attempts to eat healthfully did result in weight loss. I won't lie, I am pleased about it. However, weight loss is not the focus here, and dieting is right out. However, I did change the way I eat – starting with breakfast. And I have Alton Brown to thank for my main breakfast recipe.

So, on to food – breakfast and lunch.

You all know Good Eats, right? A Food Network show by Alton Brown, where he simultaneously geeks out and cooks delicious food. A while ago there was an episode on healthy eating – and at least my breakfasts were never the same. Homemade smoothies with soy milk and fruit juice and frozen fruit is my breakfast for almost every day. Bonus: they are so energizing, I no longer NEED to drink coffee in the mornings (I do occasionally opt to). Anyway. Alton Brown's version is here.

My version: a handful of frozen berries (thawed overnight in the fridge), a banana, and maybe more berries. Half a cup of light soy milk (Silk), half a cup of juice (love V8's acai and mixed berry). Blend. Vary proportion of fruit to liquid to obtain the desired consistency.

Another recipe from that show is my preferred lunch for the days I'm home for lunch. Not suitable for vegetarians and deranged individuals who don't like sardines. Here's Alton's version.

Mine avoids the whole marinating thing:

1 can of brisling two-layer sardines packed in olive oil
½ avocado
1 teaspoon cilantro
splash of lemon juice
good crusty bread

Drain oil from sardines, brush over two generous bread slices. Stick in the over on broil. Mash avocado with a fork, add cilantro and lemon juice, salt to taste, mix, spread on toast. Top with drained sardines.

Two slices of bread, by the way, are the limit of my daily starch. For whatever reason, bread, rice, potatoes and other starchy things leave me feeling tired and unhappy. So limiting my daily starch to 1-2 bread slices or rice in a sushi roll or one potato works well for me, but I realize it's not for everyone.

Other lunch options: a cup of soup, string cheese and apples, string cheese and granola. Occasional sushi roll, if eating out, but most days string cheese+fruit or carb is my main option, since it's easy to pack for.